Tag Archives: Ragnar Trail New England

Gear Review & Packing List for Ragnar Trail New England

My patriotic folding chair (and table) for our American Gladiators-themed team!

The chair and table (and sit-pad, tarp, & decorative flags), that served us well at the Ragnar Trail New England.

The last weekend in June I ran my first Ragnar Trail in Massachusetts (“Ragnar Trail New England”) – you can find my expectations and initial packing list here and my race recap/review here.  This post will focus on the gear.

 

Overall, my team pretty much packed the right stuff.  With a little tweaking I think we would have been totally set.  For an updated packing list in PDF form, click here.  For details and thoughts on the items from the original list, see below.

 

Original Packing List for Ragnar Trail New England:  New Comments in Italics

Clothing – Put each running leg outfit in separate labeled Ziploc bag – You do this so (a) in case it starts floating around camp, everyone knows whose stuff it is, (b) you know which bag to grab for which loop, and (c) you can stuff your gross, sweaty gear back into the bag and seal it up until you get home to deal with that mess.

  • Running shirts & bottoms – 3 each – Yep, not much to note on this.  I guess you could re-wear items but that could be kinda gross/uncomfortable especially if you sweat a lot.
  • Running shoes – 1 or 2 pair – If they’ll have a Salomon demo tent (and they probably will), one pair is fine, because you can always check out a demo pair in case yours get too wet or muddy to use.
  • Running socks – 3 to 4 pairs – Definitely bring extra socks especially if you ever end up wearing your socks with sandals in the wet grass…
  • Sports Bra/Undies – at least 3 pairs each – Yes.
  • Hat/visor – 1 or 2 hats – One hat was fine for me but if it had been really cold I might have used a beanie at night.
  • One comfy non-running shirt (for in-between runs) – One shirt was fine, plus you’ll get the race t-shirt when you check in.
  • One pair non-running bottoms (for in-between runs) – e.g. sweats or yoga pants – I wore both my silly American flag leggings and some thin, long jogger pants at night and was still a bit chilly, so if you tend to get cold make sure to bring some cozy sweatpants or long underwear or something for night.  If you run both hot and cold, toss in a pair of shorts for daytime, too.
  • One pair non-running (shower) shoes – Didn’t need shower shoes for New England because there were no showers, but was definitely nice to have a pair of slides to wear between runs.  I like these from Crocs – comfy and lightweight for packing.
  • Warm jacket and/or sweatshirt – A definite must for the chilly night.  I wore both my thin sweatshirt and a lined windbreaker at night.
  • Rain jacket/windbreaker – I wore a thin rain jacket in the rain while we set up camp.  Glad I had it and even more glad I didn’t need it much over the weekend.
  • Costume items & team shirts! – I LOVED our matching team shirts.  Our Runner #6 made an awesome logo out of the American Gladiators logo and our shirts were bright and cheery and looked great together in a group.  Just like for the road Ragnar, I think team shirts are totally worth it, even if they are kinda spendy for a small custom order (I paid $30 for my cotton shirt, I think the tech shirts were a similar price).  We used logosoftwear.com to make our shirts this time.

Running Gear (required)

  • 70+ lumen headlamp (one with a red filter saves your nightvision) – 1 (or more) w/ fresh batteries – I’d say go 120-150 lumen, with 100% fresh batteries (yes, take out whatever batteries you have in there, even if you think they’re good, and swap them out with new ones, and check that sh*t), and carry fresh spare batteries that you have also tested to make sure they work.  Then also carry a backup headlamp that you have also tested with fresh batteries.  And then maybe carry one additional backup for fun.  I used this Princeton Tec 70 Lumen Byte headlamp that I got for only $15 from Amazon which was ok when it had good batteries (it features a red mode, regular mode, and bright mode and takes 2 AAA batteries – it would make a good backup if not your main lamp).  My teammate tried both the Black Diamond Spot 130 lumen headlamp (currently $32 at Amazon) and the Fenix HL23 150 lumen headlamp (currently $35 at Amazon), and he preferred the latter (as it was simpler to use, takes only one AA battery, and “seemed more reliable,” although it doesn’t seem to have a red mode).
  • Cup/bottle for hot & cold beverages (Ragnar Trail is cupless) – 2 – I only really used the one large water bottle I brought and didn’t use my insulated bottle for hot beverages.  I’m not a coffee drinker but I also heard they actually did have cups for the coffee anyway.  Next time I’d just pack one bottle but bring additional beverages like water, Gatorade or Zero Vitamin Water, and some beer and/or whiskey.  They gave out free Nuun water in the village but they used the Ragnar hose water to make it, so it still tasted bad.

Personal Running Accessories

  • Hydration backpack/handheld bottle/water belt/SPI belt – I wore my hydration backpack on every loop (my favorite Nathan Zeal 2-liter – highly adjustable, almost no bounce, and nice big pockets on the front to stash your phone and gels and whatever else you want to tuck away during your run), but most people didn’t carry any water even on the longest 6.5 mile loop.  I’d say do whatever you’re used to and you probably know yourself and whether you’d feel more comfortable carrying water or not.  I needed it because I’m a thirsty person and I’m slow, so even on the shortest loop I was out there for 45 minutes (and almost 2 hours on the longest loop, and one water stop over 2 hours wasn’t going to cut it for me).
  • Watch or GPS – Some of my teammates didn’t have a watch, but since the miles weren’t marked on the trails it was reallyreally great to know how far you had gone out there, especially since .2 miles felt like 2 miles sometimes.  The only downside was looking at your watch every 5 minutes and realizing you’ve gone like .1 miles.  I’m still using and enjoying my Garmin 620, although I almost never wear the heart rate monitor anymore.  
  • Sunglasses – More crucial for walking around camp and the village than for running the shaded trails, actually!
  • Buff or headband for ears – Never needed it but glad I brought it, but they also had two different vendors handing out free buffs in the Village, so you might be able to snag a free one (or two).
  • Gaiters – Surprisingly did not need these!  I didn’t get any rocks in my shoes at all – actually got more rocks in my shoes during the Deadwood Mickelson “Trail” Marathon.  If you don’t already own gaiters, don’t buy them for just this race.
  • Tall compression socks/calf sleeves (for brush) – Did not need these, either!  They would be fine for recovery but you don’t need them to protect your legs on the trail.  Again, don’t buy them just for this race if you don’t want to.
  • Hair ties/hairbands – Yep.
  • Gloves – Didn’t need these but glad I had them just in case. 
  • Road ID – in case of emergency – Wore mine on my shoe but forgot to swap them to my demo shoes.  Luckily our Captain entered any critical allergy info for the team so if one of us had gone down someone probably would have gotten that info.  Nevertheless, try to have ID on you especially if you do have allergies or a medical condition.
  • Additional handheld lights/headlamps – YES.  See above comments on my newfound headlamp obsession.
  • iPod & headphones (discouraged on trail) – Never used except when sleeping in camp (my trick is to sleep with in-ear headphones plugged into my phone to dampen the noise around me and so my alarm will wake me but not my teammates.  One teammate who runs with headphones ended up taking his off shortly into his run, preferring to concentrate on the trail instead.
  • Cell Phone – pre-programmed with teammates numbers & photos of course maps – I carried my phone on all three loops, mostly to take pictures.  Never needed it for an emergency and there were always plenty of other runners around so if someone did need help it would have been easy to get.  There’s decent service around on the trails and at the Village, so definitely bring your phone in general to camp.

Personal Miscellaneous

  • Toiletries – toothbrush & paste, hairbrush, etc. – Yep.
  • Sunblock & Chapstick with SPF – Yep.
  • Body Glide/anti-chafe – Although not strictly necessary for short runs like this, I almost always wear anti-chafe on my toes and I like to have it in case some weird thing starts bugging me.  I now use three different anti-chafe products depending on the area of body and my mood (anti-chafe being like a runner’s makeup…) – Ruby’s Lube (mild ingredients that smell herby), Sportslick (smells a little like coconut oil although there’s no coconut in it), and the unfortunately branded Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder Gel (smells like nothing to me and disappears on skin but still does a good job of protecting sensitive spots).  
  • Towel or Chawel – I ended up not using my Chawel this time, changing inside the tent instead.  I guess I’m glad I had the “most massively useful thing” in the universe, but for Ragnar New England, it wasn’t strictly necessary.
  • Ear Plugs & Sleeping Mask – I didn’t use mine but teammates used theirs.  Good to have and small to pack.
  • Headphones – Again, only used while sleeping, but was very helpful for that.
  • Any medicine you need – Yep.
  • Prescription Glasses/Contacts – Yep.
  • Food & Drinks – special stuff for you (e.g. Gels, electrolytes, chocolate, etc.) – Yep.
  • Cash – small bills – Yep.  I bought one Boloco bowl and a Ragnar merch hat, using cash for former and credit for latter.  

Camping Gear

  • Tent(s) – enough for team, 1 big or a couple smaller – It was really nice to have one big tent  you could stand up in (and where most of us slept at one point or another) and two smaller tents, especially dedicating one of the smaller tents for our gear and for changing (to isolate the funk to one tent).  We got our big tent (Coleman Montana 8) on an Amazon Deal of the Day, but I’d recommend it even at the higher price because of the awesome “screen door” style door that opened and shut without zipping (perfect for frequent, fast, noiseless entries and exits).
  • Tarp – for under tent or as a rug – We used about 3-4 tarps for our campsite – under each tent and for the front of the changing tent so you could walk around without your shoes.
  • Sun Shade (if available) or Umbrella – I read so many bad reviews online for various pop-up canopies I didn’t buy one, but luckily someone on our team was able to borrow one from a friend (so I’m not sure what brand it was) – but it worked great!  It was key for a sun-phobic like me to have a shady place to sit.  See if you can borrow one from someone you know and if not, I think it’s a worthwhile team expense (divided by 8 people it’ll probably only cost $10-15 per person).
  • Camp Chairs & Table – I read that having a chair was important for a Ragnar Trail event and I’d agree – our team brought 2-3 “high” or normal chairs and 2-3 “low” lightweight, portable camping chairs, and they were all almost constantly in use (the normal chairs were more favored).  I got this chair because of our USA theme and it was cheery and pretty comfy, plus it had two drink holder cups which was useful.  If I didn’t need or want a theme chair, and was willing to spend extra money, I might get a chair like this one or this one with a mesh bottom (because the rain and sweaty bottoms made the canvas chairs a little damp).  This $20 chair also has mesh but only in the back, not solving the damp bottom problem.  Having a table was also really nice, even the tiny camping table that I brought, although having a bigger table or a second table would have been nice, too.  
  • Sleeping Bag or Blanket & a Pad/air mattress – Definitely needed a sleeping bag or blanket at night (I used my old 15-degree down bag that seems to have lost its loft – any bag or blanket will do, though).  And it’s always nice to have a sleeping pad for comfort and warmth – I used a Therm-a-rest Z-Lite Sol because it’s pretty cheap ($25 for the small folding one, $20 for the regular size Ridgerest rolling one), doesn’t need inflating, and doesn’t make noise as you shift around (that an inflated mattress sometimes does).
  • Small pillow/inflatable camping pillow – I used my old Cocoon Air-Core pillow but I recommend spending a few extra bucks for the Sea to Summit Aeros ultralight pillow (also available at REI and EMS) as it’s so incredibly compact you can bring it on airplane flights for extra lumbar support or to use while traveling if the hotel pillows are terrible.  If you’ll never go camping again, just bring a small regular pillow from home or a pillowcase and stuff your clothes into a ball.
So tiny yet surprisingly comfortable!

So tiny yet surprisingly comfortable!

Additional Items – One “Kit” per Team

  • Baby wipes – at least 2 tubs, unscented – Definitely nice to have a bunch of baby wipes for “showering.”
  • Bug Spray – We brought, we used, but I didn’t see a lot of bugs – huzzah!
  • First Aid Kit (e.g. bandaids, antibacterial cream, ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol, Tums, Pepto, Imodium, allergy meds, tweezers, scissors, cough drops, moleskin, Vaseline, rubber gloves, tampons) – We brought and we used the scissors probably more than anything.
  • Hand sanitizer – 1 large pump bottle – I used this religiously after every gross porta-potty visit, so to me it’s a definite must.
  • Trash bags – a few – We used one bag before we did our check-in (when you get 2 trash bags – one for regular trash and one for recycling).
  • Extra Ziploc bags – I think someone needed one once.  
  • Snacks for the group – e.g. bananas, apples, nuts, jerky, cheese, chips, cookies, candy, pretzels, Twizzlers, granola bars, PB&J, bagels, etc. & gum – I was throughly impressed with the quantity and quality of snacks my team brought, especially considering we did NOT stop at a grocery store on the way!  We had macadamia nuts, chocolate covered mangos, beef jerky, wasabi peas, no-bake cookies, Pop Tarts (I didn’t even bring them!), Reeces Pieces, and other stuff I can’t even remember.  Definitely bring a bunch of fun snacks because half the time the snacking is the entertainment.
  • Drinks – Gatorade or electrolyte drink mix, several gallon jugs of water – We did not bring water and that’s the one big thing I wish we had brought.  The “potable” water provided by Ragnar tasted like water from a dirty inflatable pool and while nobody got sick from it, it was not conducive to wanting to hydrate.  We used some free bottled water from the Village until it ran out, then we just drank the gross water.
  • Portable external battery/solar charger for phones & charging cables – I used my external battery charger (Anker Astro, $18 at Amazon) (only had to use it once near the end) and it was great.  My teammate frequented the Goal Zero charging station in the Village multiple times to keep her phone above 80% just about the entire time.
  • Camera – One team member brought an SLR camera, which was nice.  The rest of us used our phones like millennials.  😉
  • Cards/Games – Another team member brought an awesome selection of games.  We played a couple games and I think it was worthwhile to bring, but next time I’d make more of an effort to play even more.
  • Bluetooth speaker/radio – We had two and we barely used them because Ragnar played music most of the day – I’m moving this to the “optional” section.
  • Decorations for campsite – We had some (paltry) decorations and while we weren’t the absolute least decorated campsite, we were in the bottom third I’d say – not for lack of effort on our part, but because other teams went over the top with some awesome decorations.  We were jealous.  Next time we will have more…
  • Village Schedule & Trail Maps – They post the Village schedule in the Village, and you can also pull it up on your phone, but it was nice to have it printed out.
  • Team pace sheet with ETAs – Definite must.  Definitely use this version and make an effort to try to accurately estimate your times so you’re not waiting around the village worrying that your runner is dead on the trail.  Overall we were slower than we expected because the trails were pretty tough.  Don’t forget a pen!

Optional – Can Skip if $ or Space is Tight

  • Yoga Mat – No one on our team did yoga that weekend.
  • Cooler with ice – Would be nice if filled with drinks.  Our small soft-sided cooler actually kept some ice frozen the entire weekend.  Get ice at the hotel if you don’t need a lot of it.
  • Paper Towels – 1 roll – We actually used our paper towels quite a bit – I’m moving this to the “bring” section.
  • Dry shampoo – One team member (a dude!) brought “Not Your Mother’s” Clean Freak Dry Shampoo, used it a lot, and swore by it.  One other teammate with long hair also used it and got complimented on her hair.  I didn’t try it but I’d give it a “thumbs up” from reputation.
  • Glow sticks – Meh.  I picked up several of these on the trail as trash the next morning, so I’m taking this off the list since they basically just turn into trail trash (and this is why we can’t have nice things).
  • Additional flashlight(s) or Lantern – One of my teammates brought a lantern and it was GREAT.  Really nice to have light at our campsite hang-out area.  I’m bumping this item up to the “bring” section.
  • Massage stick/Foam roller – Someone brought one and used it a bit, but I didn’t.  Optional.
  • Colgate Wisp one-time use toothbrushesI used mine and it was great, but can use regular toothbrush too, of course.
  • Toilet paper and/or Kleenex – We actually did need to use our roll of TP during the porta-potty-pocalypse, so I’d say this is a “bring.”
  • Duct and/or Scotch Tape – Didn’t bring, maybe kinda wanted tape at one point (to stick up our schedule and decorations) but we made do without.  Optional.
  • Shoe anti-odor and drying spray – Didn’t bring.
  • Camping stove (not allowed in many locations) – Didn’t bring although we saw a TON of grills (and smelled their burgers and stuff).  If you’re into this, I’d say bring, but I definitely would not have been willing to take on cooking and cleaning duties (and making sure food didn’t spoil, etc.).
  • Bike(s) – I saw one dude riding around on a bike, but for New England they’re not necessary because the campsite wasn’t all that big and the Village was up a hill you probably wouldn’t want to bike up anyway.

 

One random item not on the original list that I’m including as optional on the updated list – reflective markers or tent stake lights.  Our tent stakes/lines got kicked several times by people walking past our campsite during the night, disturbing several people (especially those sleeping near the tent walls), so it would have been good to have the lines marked with reflective cord or stickers or electric tea lights or something.

 

Again, my updated, unannotated, one-page packing list for Ragnar Trail in PDF format is here.  My packing list for Ragnar road races is here.  I hope to do Ragnar Cape Cod next year, so I expect to update my road packing list again after that.  I’m like Sisyphus with these packing lists and I can’t stop!

 

What do you consider essential gear for a relay race or a camping trip?  When’s your next Ragnar?  How do you feel about camping?  Share in the comments!

Race Recap – Ragnar Trail New England, June 26-27, 2015

Team American Raginators found the finish!

Team American Raginators found the finish!

There is so much to say about my first Ragnar Trail experience!  In a nutshell, there were great times (hanging out with my team) and terrible times (red loop!) and gross times (porta-potty-pocalypse), but overall it was a wonderful, memorable weekend, and I’d totally do it again.

 

I’m going to break this recap into two posts:  the race and the gear.  This post is about the race.  For my expectations for Ragnar Trail New England, you can see my post here.

 

A few things I wanted to highlight for those you might run Ragnar Trail New England in the future:

  • Overall the course was much more difficult than I expected.  My ears popped on every loop, even though I was simply walking uphill.  And while I walked most of the course, I was also totally un-trained (not just under-trained – not trained at all on trails or hills).  However, I was not the only person to complain about how steep the trails were (one woman on the course was muttering, “If I wanted to HIKE a relay, I would have signed up to HIKE…”).   Forewarned is forearmed.
  • Most of the course is shady.  I never needed gaiters on my shoes or compression socks to protect my legs, but there was some tricky single-track and I’m glad I had trail shoes with good traction.  It was a little slippery from the recent rain but it could have been much worse, too, so be prepared for anything and take care not to fall.  (Rumor has it several runners were injured out on the trails.)
  • It wasn’t too crowded on the trails but there were several times on each loop I had to make way for a runner coming through (remember I’m slow), and even a couple times I passed some people who had to step aside, so definitely be aware out there.
  • I was amazed at how few bugs there were (I was expecting a bug bonanza).  We all used a little bug spray but I didn’t get bitten at all (didn’t even see any mosquitos) and I think I escaped all the ticks, too.
  • It’s all about the team – I lucked out and landed on a team full of “good folk” and some of the funniest people I could have hoped for (and to me being funny is basically the best thing you can be).
  • “Retrospectively Pleasurable” was the most spot-on team name in a sea of awesome pun-filled team names this weekend.
  • And while this isn’t the gear post – make sure you have a good headlamp!  Ragnar recommends 70+ lumens but I’d say go 150+.  And bring your own water to camp (if not on the trail itself).

 

The Village fire pit, finishing chute and exchange tent before the race.

The Village fire pit, finishing chute and exchange tent before the race.

 

Setting Up Camp – “It’s not free, it’s included,” & “Volunteer is Latin for someone doing something they don’t want to do, for free.”

 

We drove up to the Hampton Inn at Greenfield on Thursday night before the race, checking in a little before midnight and getting varying amounts of sleep.  The hotel was clean and quiet and had a decent free breakfast (cold cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, muffins, bagels, eggs and potatoes, juice, some fruit, etc.).  There were tons of other Ragnar teams staying at the hotel as well.  If you plan on running this race, reserve your hotel room early!

 

I got ice from the hotel machine for our small soft-sided cooler, then our team headed off to the campsite about 25 minutes away.  Getting ice from the hotel was great, but we didn’t pack any drinks so there wasn’t much we needed to keep cold.  Since the potable water provided by Ragnar was only just (as in, it tasted like really bad hose/pool/chlorine water that even Nuun couldn’t fix), I’d definitely recommend bringing large jugs of water (and while you’re at it, a couple of beers or a small bottle of Fireball or something to celebrate with post-race).  There were some jugs of store-bought water in the village, but they quickly ran out.

The campsite, mess tent, and parking lot at Ragnar Trail New England.  The Village is behind me.

The campsite, mess tent, and parking lot at Ragnar Trail New England at 9:20 am. The Village is behind me. 

We arrived a little after 7 am and there were already a fair number of campsites set up (some people admitted to arriving before the official opening time, but there was no need – there was plenty of space all morning and campsites only got kinda crowded late morning/afternoon).  Our wonderful team volunteer and non-runner went off to her shift showing the safety video, and we got down to setting up camp.

 

It was raining when we arrived, but luckily not too hard and it quickly stopped.  It didn’t start raining hard again until the drive home – we seriously lucked out on weather, and I can only imagine how miserable it would have been to run and sleep and exist for 30+ hours in the rain.  We set up camp quite close to our van, which was great since we didn’t have to carry our stuff too far.  We also were close to the “mess hall” tent and not far from a couple tall trees that provided some shade later in the day.  Our site wasn’t the farthest from the village, but it wasn’t the closest, either – I think it was pretty Goldilocks, although I was a little sick of the walk to and from the village by the end of the weekend.  Luckily we were not near the porta potties, especially considering they got full by Friday afternoon and over half had to be shut down until the pumping company could come the next morning.  Shudder.

 

Porta-potty-pocalypse indeed.  Trust me, you do not want to see the inside of these things.

Porta-potty-pocalypse indeed. Trust me, you do not want to see the inside of these things.

At any rate, we laid out our tarps and put two smaller tents on one side and our large tent on the other side, with a pop-up canopy between them.  It was actually a perfect set-up, allowing us lots of privacy and shade (the canopy, borrowed from a friend, was crucial).  We used one tent for gear and changing and the other two tents for sleeping, which was also a good idea since the gear/changing tent got kinda funky and I’m glad I didn’t have to sleep in that funk.

 

Our campsite - canopy flanked by tents.

Our campsite – canopy flanked by tents.

 

And then we waited!  We couldn’t check in until 11:30 am, two hours before our start time of 1:30 pm, so we snacked and took pictures and played Cards Against Humanity and just hung out.  I grew increasingly nervous but didn’t have too much time to brood since after check-in I had to change into my running tights and we all had to watch the safety video and get up to the start line in the village.  I was runner #1, so my loop order was Green, Red, and Yellow.

This would be the last time I'd be able to jump for several days.

This would be the last time I’d be able to jump like that for several days.

#1 – Green Loop – 3.5 miles – “Don’t go out too fast!”

 

Before my first loop, still clean and happy.

In the Village before my first loop, still clean and happy.

Teams had been running since 10 am so the Village was pretty hopping by the time our team started.  The announcer announced the team names for the 1:30 start time and we were off!  Half the group tried to run into the woods the wrong way, but we were quickly pointed in the right direction and started our race.

 

Ragnar mostly schedules the teams based on speed, starting the slower teams earlier so they have time to finish, but that doesn’t mean everyone starting at 1:30 was going to be my pace, especially considering how pace can vary within a team.  Unfortunately I wasn’t thinking about that so I took off after the pack, getting swept up in the excitement and trying to keep up with them.  Instant regret!!!  I basically winded myself in less than .3 miles and struggled to catch my breath for the rest of the loop (even while just walking!).

 

So much uphill on the Green Loop...

So much uphill on the Green Loop…

 

The green loop was 3.5 miles total, but the first half was entirely uphill and the second half was pretty much downhill.  There was a lot of fire road and not a lot of single-track, but that didn’t make the uphill much easier.  Luckily on the second half I hooked up with another runner and we chatted the rest of the way back (chatting being my favorite thing ever).  Most of the second half of the green was actually the part where the three loops converged and shared the last 1.5 miles back to the exchange.  It was mostly shady and the single-track portion was a little muddy but not as wet as I had feared, but there were a fair number of rocks and tree roots and logs and things (“technical” things) so you constantly had to watch your footing.  I didn’t realize how many problems this would cause me on my next loop in the dark, but I’d soon find out…

 

To help you estimate how long this course might take you:  It took me about 45 minutes to finish the Green Loop, or about a 13 minute-per-mile pace, which is what I had estimated and hoped for (I’m not really sure what my road 10K pace is at this point, but let’s pretend it’s 11 min/mile).  I’d definitely recommend using a pace chart like THIS instead of the more compact “road” pace chart like this – overall our team’s individual paces greatly varied depending on the loop, time of day, and number of prior loops/accumulating fatigue, with much more variation than for a road relay race.

 

When I handed off the race belt to my teammate, I yelled after him, “don’t go out too fast!” but I wasn’t sure if he heard me or not.  He later told me he did, but he still went out too fast.  It was interesting how everyone came back with different info on the loops – I knew I couldn’t entirely trust our best runners to see the loops with my back-of-the-packer eyes, but I still tried to collect any info on any of the loops I could get.  I still was not prepared, mentally or physically, for the devil’s path (aka the Red Loop) next.

Sunset over camp

Sunset over camp.

#2 – Red Loop – 6.5 miles – “[This] course is bullsh*t.”

 

I started the Red Loop at about 9:30 pm, an hour past sunset.  I had heard from teammates who had already run the loop that the second hill was not nearly bad as the first hill and overall it wasn’t a killer loop.  I don’t know what loop they were running, but this loop was horrific.  There was a lot of technical single-track uphill that turned into a fire road with an uphill so steep I was pushing on my legs to get up the hill and I even then I had to come to a dead stop a few times to catch my breath.  Catch my breath walking at sea level?  Yes.  Am I that out of shape?  Maybe.  But it was also a tough course.

 

The Red/Yellow loop split at night - much more festive in person but just as dark.

The Red/Yellow loop split at night – much more festive in person but just as dark.

About 1 mile in a guy blew past me, saying something about how the noises in the dark woods were freaking him out.  I told him not to worry about bears, but to remember that the police had only caught one of the escaped murderers so far.  He yelled back to me, “How do you know I’m not one of them?” and kept on running.  That moment was probably the most fun I had on the red loop.

 

About 2 miles in I started having trouble with my headlamp.  It was getting very very dim, so I finally decided to switch out the batteries with fresh ones my teammate had given me.  Unfortunately, those batteries were completely dead, so now I was super tired and only had my backup headlamps (those mini ones I love so much for camping or road running turn out not to be bright enough for trail running).  I put one on my head and one on my hand and even then I could barely see.  I was frustrated, tired, and cursing everything at this point.  Since I had done the first two miles at 24 minute-per-mile pace when I had estimated a 16 minute pace, I didn’t want my teammates to worry and wait for me forever at the finish, so I texted them that I was going a lot slower and that my headlamp had died so it was going to be awhile.  This turned out to be a big mistake, since it made my teammates worry even more (although they knew I had backup lights and I didn’t say I needed help, just that I was going to be late).

 

Around mile 3.5 or so I hooked up with three other women running the same loop and I used their light and camaraderie to help me finish the course.  We finally hit the downhill around mile 4 and it was pretty narrow and technical.  The other women had great lights and they were still stumbling a lot and one even fell (she said it was the second time she fell that night but luckily she was ok both times).  Those women were the best thing to happen to me out there – it would have taken me another hour to finish without them.

 

Then my phone started blowing up.  I didn’t know it at the time, but one of my teammates had actually run out into the night to try to find me and give me a new headlamp, so he was calling me over and over.  To me, it was just super annoying to have my phone ringing every 30 seconds when I was trying to run a narrow, rocky path downhill, especially when I’d answer and say “stop calling me, I can’t talk right now!” because I had to keep up with the women or lose my source of light (and inspiration).  I guess reception wasn’t great because he never heard me pick up and say stop calling (and he might not have realized how many times he called, either).  I definitely feel bad for the miscommunication and I appreciate what he was trying to do, but at the time I was just really annoyed at the calls and later felt guilty that someone put themselves at risk in the dark for me when I didn’t need or ask for help.

 

But, lessons learned – communication is key and so is a really good headlamp.  And I really hope no hard feelings on either side of this – except for right after I finished the loop we didn’t really talk about it again, so if you’re reading this Runner 3, sorry about the confusion and my pissy mood after the loop from hell, and thanks for your efforts.  I think Runner 2 really put it best when he texted from the Red Loop, “course is bullsh*t.”  And then a mile later, “still bs.”  Indeed it was, Runner 2, indeed it was.

 

I finished in 1:53, or a 17:20 pace, which means I really picked it up at the end to make up for those first two miles (but not entirely made up, putting my team another 10 minutes behind schedule).  I was really glad to have that over with, and while I remember really hating trail running at that point, the hate is fading and I’m ready to do it again (with reduced expectations and a better headlamp).

 

Misty morning at Ragnar Trail New England.

Misty morning at Ragnar Trail New England.

 

#3 – Yellow Loop – 4.8 miles – “It’s a lie, yellow is the easiest loop!”

 

I started Yellow Loop at about 6:30 am, so it was already light out (sunrise was 5:09 am) and the fog that enveloped the camp had mostly cleared.  I had gotten a couple decent hours of sleep, but was cold even with my sleeping pad, bag liner, and 32-degree sleeping bag (and tights and jacket), so it wasn’t the best sleep, but I was awake and ready to finish my last leg.

 

I went out easy (aka power-walking), knowing that the first mile or so was the same as the red loop, but the yellow quickly veered to the left and kept going up and up on single-track.  Luckily the entire loop was less than 5 miles, so pretty soon I was at the top of the hill and heading back down for the rest of the course.  It was almost all single-track down and pretty run-able, even for me, although “trashing my quads” kept running through my head (and I really did end up trashing them as I was sore for days afterwards).

 

Some of the downhill on the yellow loop.  Watch your footing!

Some of the downhill on the yellow loop. Watch your footing!

I ran the last couple miles about as fast as I could, and I still only finished in 1:15 or a 15:45 pace, even though I felt like I was flying.  As I came into the exchange chute the final time, I yelled out “it’s a lie, yellow is the easiest loop,” because I really felt that it was, now that I could compare the three.  It had the most downhill and I actually kinda enjoyed it, and it was a really nice way to finish especially after the bullsh*t red loop.

Lies, all lies.  No chocolate here, my friend.

Lies, all lies. No chocolate here, my friend.

The Village Activities – Yoga, Pasta, S’mores, Massage?

 

My first of 2 Boloco bowls, and my second to last of such bowls for many months to come.  (Team captain in background, already exhausted by all of us.)

My first of 2 Boloco bowls, and my second to last of such bowls for many months to come. (Team captain in background, already exhausted by all of us.)

I skipped the yoga and massage (mixed reviews on the free massage, but there was typically a line and the massages themselves were very short), missed the s’mores due to my running schedule, but did eat the “pasta dinner” which was actually just another Boloco burrito bowl.  Those bowls were good (you could choose to include rice, lettuce, beans, chicken, beef, corn, salsa, guac, sour cream, cheese) but I ate two in about 3 hours (late lunch and early dinner) and then never wanted to look at another Boloco bowl again.  Some of my teammates bought the breakfast bowl and they said it had eggs and bacon but tasted just like the other bowls, so I’m kinda glad I skipped it.

The s'mores I missed.  Photo credit to Julia, our lovely volunteer & honorary teammate.

The s’mores I missed. Photo credit to Julia, our lovely volunteer & honorary teammate.

There were also more vendors than I expected in the village, hawking everything from massage sticks and bondi bands, to smoothies, weird herbal poisons recovery shots, and beer, plus there was a huge Ragnar merch tent.  They also had the promised Goal Zero charging station (frequently used by one of my teammates who was able to keep her phone fully charged all weekend) and the Salomon demo tent from which I was able to demo their Sense Pro trail runner (in exchange for my ID) for the weekend.  I ended up wearing them for my first two loops but switched to my old Salomons for my last loop, but it was actually my old shoes that gave me fresh new blisters on my toes from all the slamming downhill, so I might buy a pair of the Sense Pro (they fit like a glove!), even though I hate trail running.  😉

 

How did the Ragnar Trail Relay compare to a Ragnar Road Relay?

 

You can wear silly costumes and photobomb at both Ragnars!

You can wear silly costumes and photobomb at both Ragnars!

The trail beat up my body like nothing else.  I was more sore for several days after this trail relay (that was only a total of 14.8 miles) than I am from a marathon.  Needless to say, it was a lot harder on the body than the road Ragnar, even if you run more miles on the road (I ran 18 miles for my first and only Ragnar Road and I don’t remember being very sore).

 

You also have less downtime at a trail relay since it’s a smaller team and there’s no “on” van and “off” van.  Even though for the road relay we had to drive to the next location and meet our runner, there was always a big chunk of time our van was “off” that allowed us to physically and mentally take a break.  Here at the camp the longest time “off” was when you just finished running, but the only time I wasn’t cheering for or taking pictures of our team at the exchanges was during the overnight portion.  I couldn’t even count how many times I walked up and down the hill separating our campsite from the village – it definitely added more than a few miles to my legs, and I didn’t even think we were that far away!

 

Watching and waiting for your team name to pop up on the monitors was the most popular activity in the Village.

Watching and waiting for your team name to pop up on the monitors was the most popular activity in the Village.

As expected, there was a lot of waiting around the monitors at the village – that is, when they were working.  They had a chip mat .2 miles from the exchange point that would post your team name on a flatscreen TV so you could send your next runner into the tent to get the colored loop bracelet and wait for the bib handoff.  At some point the monitors went down and you just had to wait to see your runner coming (based on how long you thought it would take him or her to run the loop).  Shortly after that they started announcing the teams as they passed the chip mat (it was the computer monitors that were down, not the chip timing mats), then they switched to writing the team’s number on a clipboard they held up for the crowd to see, and then finally they got the monitors working again.  None of it was a big deal, but it definitely made having a good pace sheet and some idea of when your runner was coming even more important.

 

 

One of the many exchanges made in the tent during our first Ragnar Trail.

One of the many exchanges made during our team’s first Ragnar Trail.

Our team finished in 26:07:22.  The overall winners finished in a blistering 15:20:42 (although second place was a distant 17:59:23 and the first mixed division (half men, half women) finished in 18:24:16).  The teams who started the final wave at 5:00 pm on Friday tore out of the chute like puppies on cocaine.  The announcer even said, “Ok, we get it, you’re fast,” but the runners were long gone by then.  God bless you fast folks; someday I hope to Freaky Friday body swap with you.

The front and back of the shirt and medal.  #BestMedalEver

The front and back of the shirt and medal. #BestMedalEver

I’ll update my packing list and let you know my thoughts on gear for Ragnar Trail in my next post.  Would I do another Ragnar Trail?  Definitely.  Do I prefer Ragnar Road or Trail?  If I don’t have to drive (either because we have a volunteer driver or other team members drive), I’d prefer road, but my feelings towards trail running might change if/when I get better at it.  Plus I really do like that crazy sharp multitool medal.

Have you ever run a trail relay?  Do you prefer Ragnar road relay or the trail relays?  And for my teammates – what did I forget to mention about the weekend?  Share in the comments!

Expectations & Packing List for Ragnar Trail New England

Just some of the stuff I'll be bringing to Ragnar Trail New England this weekend.

Just some of the stuff I’ll be bringing to Ragnar Trail New England this weekend.

My first trail Ragnar relay is only a few days away, and once again instead of actually training on trails, I’ve focused on what to pack.  For my first Ragnar Relay I put together an extensive packing list, then revised that list after the race, finding many of the things I brought unnecessary and excessive.  Since this is a camping and trail race, and thus has all sorts of different gear involved, I expect to do the exact same thing again.  I’m nothing if not consistent.

 

For those not familiar with Ragnar, in a nutshell it’s a relay race series.  The “traditional” Ragnar Relay is run with teams of 12 (6 for ultra) split into two vans, covering about 200 miles along open roads.  The trail Ragnars are a newer offshoot.  They’re run on trails (naturally), with teams of only 8 (4 for ultra), and have a “home base” or what they call a “village,” with all exchanges happening in one single location.  That means every team camps in one large area and no one has to worry about driving or getting to the next exchange.

 

Each Ragnar trail race varies, but they all have three loops ranging in difficulty (coded as green, yellow, and red), and everyone runs the same three loops, just in different order.  For Ragnar Trail New England, the loops are 3.5, 4.8, and 6.5 miles long, but cover quite a bit of elevation (e.g. 800 feet in 2 miles!) and sound reasonably technical (especially compared to the Mickelson “Trail” Marathon).  Our team of 8 expects to finish the 118 miles in about 24 hours, give or take a couple hours.  In comparison, our team of 12 finished 197 miles on the road in about 30.5 hours for Ragnar Adirondacks.  I don’t consider either of my Ragnar teams “competitive” in the running sense, mostly because they allowed me to be on them (I’m the slowest runner on the team – gotta be number 1 in something!).

 

Thanks to a lot of dedicated bloggers, there’s a lot of info out there on various Ragnar Trail races, but since this is the first Ragnar at this particular location, there are no reviews on this specific race.  But from skimming many pages of various blogs and the Ragnar website itself, here are some expectations and tips I’ve culled together –

  • Campsites can fill up fast, so I’m glad our volunteer shift is early so our team is “forced” to get there to set up.  Each team is limited to 300 square feet of camping space (or about 17’x17′ feet), which should be plenty, I hope!  One person recommended getting a site that’s easy to see and that’s not too far from the exchange location, but others indicated it’s just a matter of preference in terms of which spot you choose.
  • We will be camping on grass, not a parking lot like some of the other Ragnar Trail races (e.g. Tahoe).
  • Ragnar promises a bonfire, s’mores, and a pasta dinner on Friday night (although most say it’s not a great dinner).  There will be a beer garden (5 pm to 10 pm on Friday and 11 am to 4 pm on Saturday), various yoga sessions, and a movie Friday night (although probably played without sound).  It also looks like there will be lunch and breakfast available for sale, which is great news since I don’t think our team is bringing a camp stove.
  • Most of the trail reviews indicate that Salomon provides shoes to demo, which is great in case your shoes get wet, but it’s unclear if this location will have shoes available.
  • Also unclear if there will be paid shower facilities available – the race bible (“Trail Guide“) says to check the Village page, but the Village page for New England doesn’t say anything about showers (or shoe demos).
  • Some say it can be difficult to know when the next runner is coming in, since they’re out alone on a trail and there’s no way to see or track them (except for the chip mat .2 miles from the exchange).  I also think trail running is in general more variable than road running, so I expect to wait around at the exchange more than for a road Ragnar.
  • At the exchange, you pass the race belt with the number and chip, not the slap bracelet – the bracelets are color coded for the trail you’re about to run, they’re not the baton as in a Ragnar road race.
  • A single headlamp can give you tunnel vision, especially in the fog, so handheld points of light can be helpful.  The Knuckle Lights don’t appeal to me (too bulky seeming and one-use seeming) so I’m going to wear two ultra-compact Petzl E+LITE headlamps on my knuckles instead (I absolutely love that mini headlamp, by the way).
  • Most race recaps make the Ragnar Trail races sound a lot more chill than the road races – no rushing around to find your runner, no need to drive, your team is all in one location, etc.  It sounds like it’s a lot of hanging around with some running thrown in, which sounds pretty perfect to me.
  • Weather forecast for Northfield, MA, calls for highs in mid-70s to lows in mid-50s, with some showers on Friday.  Not too bad, I hope!

Concerns

My patriotic folding chair (and table) for our American Gladiators-themed team!

My patriotic folding chair (and table) for our American Gladiators-themed team!

I do have a couple worries about this race – the first involves food (as most of my worries do).  I’m sure we’ll have plenty of snacks but I’m a big fan of hot meals, too.  For the road relay we were able to have a couple normal meals at restaurants during the weekend.  While we’re supposed to get a pasta dinner on Friday, most reviews said it was pretty lackluster and that the lines for the other food can be incredibly long.  I’m not worried about going hungry, it’s just that I don’t want to do my typical thing and eat chips and candy and Pop Tarts for the entire weekend (or do I…?).

 

My second worry is about the bathrooms, since we’ll have to use the same porta potties for the entire weekend.  I’ve seen porta potties get preeeeeeeety gross even in the 30 minutes of use before a race, so I don’t want to dwell on how gross they’ll be after two days, but I do.  I do dwell.

 

My final worry is just the general anxiety of never having done something like this before.  Will we all fit into one van with all our junk?  Will our tent work out?  Will any of us get any sleep?  How will we carry all our stuff to our campsite?  Will I get bitten by a tick with Lyme disease?  Will they run out of beer before I decide to have one?  Will I be able to maintain even a 14-minute pace on those intense trails?  Will my teammates like me???  It helps me articulate my fears on the interwebs because I think Google is working on some new AI that will prevent bad things from happening as long as I blog about them.  (Will I die alone covered in ticks in a dirty porta potty?  Google please get on preventing that!)

 

Logistics

Our team will be driving up from NYC to Massachusetts in a big van on Thursday night, staying at the nearby Hampton Inn, then getting to the campsite relatively early on Friday morning to set up and cover our volunteer shift (every non-ultra team has to cover one 3-hour volunteer shift or pay $120).  There’s a “Big Y” grocery store right across from the hotel, so we might hit that up for snacks and drinks.  I’ll be sure to grab a box of Pop Tarts or two.

 

The race location is at Northfield Mountain, which is a little over 2 hours west of Boston or 3.5 hours north of New York City.  Camping there for the race is only allowed from Friday morning to Saturday at 6 pm, when everything has to be cleared out.  I already anticipate an exhausted (and sticky) drive back on Saturday night and wonder if we shouldn’t have tried staying a night in the area, but with so many people it’s hard to coordinate (and I know people wanted to get back home to do things and to save money).

 

Overall, I’m definitely excited for this race, as I looooved my first Ragnar, although I know this one will be different.  Oh, and the packing list?  Yeah, you can find a PDF of that here!  I’ll be sure to update it with comments after the race.  In the meantime, I’d like to highlight one particular item – a small portable external battery charger for your cell phone (that’s otherwise sure to die on the trail).  I like this one from Amazon – it’s only $18, it’s pretty dang small, it holds its charge well, and it can re-charge my iPhone over 3 full times.  Or you can get a little one like this for ten bucks – always handy to have in your bag.  Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, but feel free to contact me with any questions.  I used this awesomely helpful website to make our team’s pace sheet.

 

Have you ever run a Ragnar Trail?  Do you like to go camping?  Do you think Sasquatch lives only on the West Coast or does he occasionally venture East?  Share in the comments!